Summer in Bratislava has come. Here are a few images: Days of city heat (somehow dirtier than country heat) that translate into more ice cream for Ursula and more cold showers for her parents. Mornings of running before it gets hot, feeling the cool breezes blow off the Danube. Lots of salads topped with meat grilled on our little terrace by Jeremy (who has recently figured out a way to make chicken that gives us a new reverence for chicken). Seven month old Esme dressed in a onesie, sporting a smattering of mosquito bites on her chubby body, laughing, smiling, occasionally shrieking. Ursula, playing with friends, her legs covered with summer cuts and bruises, occasionally breaking into Slovak sentences that leave her parents open-mouthed.
Many things are on hold for the summer months at the Bratislava International Church – no Bible Study, no choir, no Sunday School. We rest from these activities. Yet on Sunday morning, God continues to gather an assembly. So we listen for God’s word in our midst, trusting that it is very near; we sing out our sorrows, and sing of God’s grace; we share the Eucharist meal, hoping for, tasting, week after week, the true presence of Christ.
Church continues, but we are also in transition. Rachel, this year’s intern, only has a month left in Slovakia before returning to her last year of seminary. Our Young Adults in Global Mission complete their last official day of service today in Hungary. Tomorrow, they travel here and take part in this Sunday’s worship. Then we’ll all head out together to the High Tatras to make an end of their time here. We’ll pray together, study scripture, and hike. We’ll reflect, and I hope this retreat also offers them something that one rarely gets living abroad for a year in a foreign land: Sabbath rest.
I find it wonderful and challenging that the Ten Commandments include a law about the Sabbath. Remember the Sabbath, and keep it holy. Of course, this commandment has been interpreted in countless ways. But for me, at root, it has two parts: The commandment calls us to actually make space in our lives for rest, and at the same time remember that true rest is only possible in and through God. Sabbath rest is always God’s gift to us, a gift that God knows we need.
Those who can and do keep Sabbath are blessed, for we have the ability to rest from actual work. Many are searching, longing for work that will bring food to their tables, and pay the rent for the month. Sabbath rest seems impossible until there first is work. Others work all the time, at home, at a shop or an office; there seems no end to the work that must be done. The only rest comes in exhausted sleep at night. Sabbath rest, holy, God-given rest, seems illusive, the property of the rich or the lazy.
In any case, I am grateful to God that in the midst of a Bratislava summer, our family was able to go away from the city for ten days. During that holiday, I was gifted with Sabbath rest.
We were up in the Maly Fatra mountains, staying with friends in some old wooden cabins, a 40-minute hike or jeep ride away from the nearest village. The grandmother — who has been coming to this place every year since 1968 — called it holy. And though I believe that God can make any place holy, even the most vile and degraded corners of this earth, there is something about a cabin in the mountains — no email, no electricity, chop wood and carry water, soak in the cows and the rolling mountains and the sun and meals with friends. It’s not everyone’s idea of a vacation. But for me, it is indeed holy, Sabbath-full.
I sat on the porch and prayed Morning Prayer (though, I admit, it was getting on towards lunchtime), and I thought through every place I have ever called home, with Esme asleep on my back. Ursula ran free with a troop of little girls, helping get water from the spring, reveling in water fights. Jeremy chopped wood and lit fires and hardly cooked (a rare bit of rest in his life of feeding our family).
The place, Podsip, was special enough that we even left our coffee pot there – a little Italian percolator, that has traveled with us on numerous camping trips, to Guyana and back, and to every other place we’ve lived over the last 10 years. We left it there, so that others might enjoy good coffee in that holy mountain retreat, and in hopes that we might go back there some day and use it again.
Now we are back in Bratislava, ready to purchase a new coffeepot. But in all seriousness, I am ready to be here with the Bratislava International Church assembly and with the YAGM’s. I am ready to breathe out and accomplish the work that I am here to do, since I returned filled up with so much holy, Sabbath breath. My lungs are thick with it.
So my prayer is this: May God grant all of you some measure of Sabbath — this summer, and regularly, throughout your years.